Hector Miguel Garnica, a 27-year-old father of three, is still missing after a flash flood hit the Arizona swimming hole where he was spending Saturday with his extended family
Adults, teens and children as young as two were enjoying a summer afternoon by cooling off in an Arizona creek when the gentle waters turned deadly.
The group of 14 from the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas had met Saturday for a day trip along a popular swimming hole near Payson, about 100 miles northeast of the capital. They set up lounge chairs not knowing an intense thunderstorm was dumping heavy rainfall just upstream in the Tonto National Forest.
The storm unleashed six-foot-high floodwaters, dark with ash from a summer wildfire, onto the unsuspecting family and friends. The torrent carried away tree branches and other debris and left a wake of nine bodies.
Search and rescue crews, including 40 people on foot and others in a helicopter, recovered the bodies of five children and four adults, some as far as two miles down the river. Authorities did not identify them.
A 27-year-old father of three, Hector Miguel Garnica, was still missing on Monday. The bodies of his wife Maria Raya, who would have been 26 on Sunday, and their three kids - three-year-old Emily, five-year-old Mia and seven-year-old Hector Daniel - were pulled from the water.
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The bodies of Garnica's wife, Maria Raya, and their three kids - three-year-old Emily, five-year-old Mia and seven-year-old Hector Daniel - were pulled from the waters this weekend. The family is pictured above
Maria's mother Selia Garcia, 60 (pictured), was also one of the nine killed in the flood
The names of the rest of the victims are as follows, according to the Arizona Republic: Maribel Raya, 24 (Maria's sister), and her daughter Erika, two; Javier Raya, 14 (Maria's brother); Selia Garcia, 60 (Maria's mother); and Jonathan Leon, 13 (Selia's grandson).
Four other members of the group - two adults and two children - were rescued from the waters on Saturday and hospitalized for hypothermia. They have since been released from the hospital.
Disa Alexander was hiking to the swimming area where Ellison Creek and East Verde River converge when the water suddenly surged.
Video she posted to social media showed torrents of water surging through jagged canyons carved in Arizona's signature red rock.
'I could have just died!' Alexander exclaimed on the video.
The above picture shows the flood waters coursing through the area on Saturday
She spotted a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree. Nearby, his wife was also in a tree. A boy Alexander described as the couple's son was on the rocks above the water.
This grainy image taken from video of the floods shows a father clinging to a tree with his baby in his hand. They are thought to have survived
Had they been swept downstream, they would have been sent over a 20-foot waterfall, Alexander said.
Alexander and others tried to reach them but couldn't.
Fortunately help was close by.
Some search and rescue team members were already near the swimming hole after getting a call to help someone who had suffered a bad allergic reaction, according to Detective Sgt. David Hornung of the Gila County Sheriff's Department.
When they arrived at the scene, 'they heard someone screaming for help and saw a man clinging to a rock,' said Hornung, who added that the man was safely rescued. 'Then they heard other people calling for help.'
Some 40 rescuers in bright orange T-shirts and helmets dotted the green landscape as they combed the waters and banks for the missing boy. A few brought along specially trained search dogs hoping to find him alive, Hornung said.
The family, who was staying in the area, declined to be interviewed when approached by an Associated Press reporter.
Lightning strikes as a monsoon sweeps toward north Phoenix Sunday night
The swimming hole is on the East Verde River around 10 miles north east of Payson and around 100 miles from Phoenix
The National Weather Service estimated up to 1.5 inches of rain fell over the area in an hour. The thunderstorm hit about 8 miles upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the narrow canyon where the swimmers were.
Hornung noted that the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning about 1 1/2 hours before, 'but unless they had a weather radio out there, they wouldn't have known about it. There is no cell phone service out here.'
The swift waters gushed for about 10 minutes before receding in the narrow canyon, Hornung said.
'They had no warning. They heard a roar, and it was on top of them,' Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier said.